Mirabile Does Middlebrow: Too Many Books, Sorry, Publicists, & Susan Rebecca White’s A Place at the Table

Woman reading clip art vintage I have acquired approximately 60 books this year.

You’ll say, She probably doesn’t read these.

You would be wrong.  I have read a third of them, and will get to the rest.

And thank God for Amazon, because bookstores are not the strong suit of this part of the country.

The problem is that we have no place to put all our books.  We have many double-stacked bookcases, a china cabinet full of books, and  books in chests of drawers.

Bookcase sagging.

Bookcase sagging.

Okay, this  bookcase is made of  cheap laminate wood, and that second shelf is beginning to sag from the weight of double-stacked books.

Guess how many books I’ve read on the shelf pictured below and you win… well, nothing, but it is a summer carnival game.

Picture # 1:


I’ve read all of these except Lynn Freed’s The Mirror

Picture # 2:

IMG_2502I’ve read all except Knut Hamson’ Growth of the Soil.

Picture # 3:

IMG_2500I’ve read only half of the Sofia Tolstoy and not read the Alan Garner yet.

We often talk about opening a used bookstore, but I would have to sell my own books.  I would probably be like the owner of a (now defunct) used bookstore who sometimes whisked books from the counter to his desk and refused to sell them.

I wanted to buy his copy of Abdelrahman Munif’s The Trench, the second book in a trilogy about the repercussions of American oil companies in a country “very much like Saudi Arabia or Kuwait,” as the book cover says.

The owner whisked it off the counter and told me I didn’t want to read that book.  “Cities of Salt is much more charming.”

No, I really did want to read that book, because I’d already read Cities of Salt.

I figured it was his book and he hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, so I finally gave up.  He wouldn’t sell the books unless he felt like it.

I ordered The Trench from Amazon.  The great thing about Jeff Bezos is that he SELLS books.

SORRY, PUBLICISTS.  Bloggers are wild cards. Publicists don’t know us very well.  Sometimes we are good matches for their books, most times not.   Very few seem to know what we actually write about at our blogs, or the kind of books we read.  Because they would rather have their books reviewed than not reviewed,  they give gifts to or exploit bloggers, depending on your point of view.

Bloggers are often flattered when publicists approach them;  I have  been flattered occasionally when  publicists approach me.  But the truth of the matter is I seldom blog about the novels they send me.  I would not in the course of my real life read these books.  It’s like Book Club:  if it’s assigned, I don’t want to read it, and so have reviewed no “free” books this year. (I received a sports book once; why?)

And that’s why I prefer to choose my own books.

The following charming novel is the sole review copy I’ve  read this year. It isn’t quite for me, but I do know some people who will love it.

Mirabile Does Middlebrow:  Susan Rebecca White’s A Place at the Table.  This novel appealed to me because Clyde Edgerton, a A Place at the Table Susan Rebecca Whitewriter of charming Southern comedies, wrote a blurb for the book jacket.

In this lovely, entertaining novel, White tells the stories of three characters whose lives intersect over their love of food. Alice, a famous African-American chef and cookbook writer, lost her brother in 1929 when he was sent away by his family because they were afraid he would be lynched.  He and Alice had cut down a boy who was lynched, and this precipitated his rebelliousness and impertinence to a store owner.  Alice later moves to Manhattan, and her cooking makes the reputation of a small restaurant patronized by famous writers.

Bobby is a gay man, the son of a Baptist preacher and housewife in Georgia, and he lives in the 1970s with his Meemaw (grandmother)  after his parents catch him having sex with another boy.  When she dies and leaves him a little money, he goes to Manhattan and finds work as a chef in the once-famous restaurant where Alice used to cook.

Amelia, a Connecticut housewife who loves to cook and has built a life around her daughters, misses them badly when they leave for boarding school and college.  Her husband begins to have tantrums:  he screams at her for getting fat and not having sex with him.  Then she learns he is having an affair.  Amelia has to put her life together, and her Aunt Kate, an editor, introduces her to Bobby.

All these characters have family secrets.  Bobby is the important, vulnerable, charming, sympathetic character whose lover has died of “gay cancer,” and he accepts both of these women when they are most depressed.

The writing is richly colored.  Here is a passage about Bobby and Memaw.

Meemaw always ices her chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting.  It’s my favorite kind because Meemaw and me can dye it whatever color we want.  I like pink, but I can only color it that way if it’s just Meemaw and me eating it.  One time I brought home a batch of pink cupcakes for my family.  Hunter asked, “Why’d you choose that sissy color?’  Daddy said he bet I’d tried to make them ref for the Georgia Bulldogs but just hadn’t added enough food coloring.  ‘Isn’t that right, son?’  Daddy asked, and I answered, ‘Yes, sir,’ knowing that was what he wanted to hear.

White, an Atlanta native, has an MFA from Collins and teaches at Emory University, and this light, but moving, novel is her third book.

6 thoughts on “Mirabile Does Middlebrow: Too Many Books, Sorry, Publicists, & Susan Rebecca White’s A Place at the Table

  1. I wish someone would start a strong on-line competitor to Amazon. There must be somebody out there who has the resources to compete, because there sure would be a market.


  2. Hi, Tony. I know. I do like Abebooks and The Book Depository, but it’s just easier to buy everything at Amazon. When I buy used books at Amazon, at least other booksellers are making a little money.

    We have to drive 100 miles to find anything other than Barnes & Noble. Apparently there were 11(?) bookstores here once.

    I find myself missing Borders.


  3. It *is* difficult to find alternatives to Amazon. I have 1 second hand bookstore locally, plus a *lot* of charity shops but that’s no good if you want a specific book. If I want better book shopping I have to travel to London! I just which Amazon would be more accurate with their book gradings…


  4. Kaggy, it is so much fun to go to used bookstores. If I pay a penny at Amazon–then it’s $4 postage–it’s still a good bargain. But a used bookstore owner once told me that he earns more if he sells from Abebooks, and I do patronize them, too. All this changes so fast: it’s probably different now. He doesn’t know what e-books are! I swear to God. It’s so funny.


  5. No, you’re right, Susan! I had the conversation before Amazon bought Abe. I wonder if they still have different policies about booksellers’ cuts of the sales.


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